Uncommon Sense

July 31, 2021

OMG, We Are That Stupid?

According to surveys and modeling by The Economist magazine, the single greatest predictor of whether an American has been vaccinated is whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump last November.

Is there a better sign that we have taken a public health issue, a basic nonpartisan issue, and politicized it?

Are we that stupid?

Yes, we are.

Of course, a massive dose of demagoguery was involved but that is the direction our politics have been turning for quite some time.

Where were all of the anti-vax people when we developed the vaccination scheme for our children? For example, here are the common vaccinations that U.S. children are supposed to get:
Hib (protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b)
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Influenza (Flu)
Pertussis (whooping cough)
And for Chicago School Children
In addition to the above:
Invasive Pneumococcal Disease
I assume your local community will have similar standards.

There were anti-vax people before, some screaming “religious exemption!” but they were a very small minority, not 40% of the population.

While researching the Chicago school vaccination requirements I found that religious exceptions are granted. So I downloaded the form and lo and behold, they require documentation! Here are the relevant sections on how to fill out the form:
How to complete the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form
• Complete the Parent/Guardian sections, which include key information about the student and the school the student will be entering, and the immunizations or examinations for which religious exemption is being requested. Provide a statement of religious belief(s): for each vaccination/examination requested.
• The form must be signed by the child’s parent or legal guardian . AND the child’s health care provider* responsible for performing the child’s health examination
• Submit the completed form to local school authority on or before October 15th of the school year, or by an earlier enrollment date established by a school district.
• The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.
Religious Exemption from Immunizations and/or Examination Form Process:
• The local school authority shall inform the parent or legal guardian, at the time that the exemption is presented, of exclusion procedures, should there be an outbreak of one or more diseases from which the student is not protected, in accordance with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) rules, Control of Communicable Diseases Code (77 Ill. Adm. Code 690).
• Exempting a child from health, dental, or eye examination does not exempt the child from participation in the program of physical education training provided in Section 27-5 through 27-7 of the Illinois School Code [105 ILCS 5/27-5 through 105 ILCS 5/27-7]. A separate request for exemption from physical education, if desired, would need to be presented.

The key part of this exception in my mind is: The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.

So, the anti-vax people seem to be signing up to be home schooling parents, no? Oh, goody, the transmission of ignorance codified.

There are Always Consequences
The state of Montana recently passed what they, euphemistically, called their “Human Rights Act,” which does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or against trans children, but now protects a class of people who don’t want to get vaccinated, whether against COVID–19 or the measles. Yes, Montana’s “small government” Republicans have mandated by law that Montana’s citizens cannot refuse to hire unvaccinated people to work in their homes, or as caretakers for their elderly parents, or they will be in violation of the state’s human rights law. O . . . M . . . G!

Okay, let’s consider a hypothetical. Let’s say that a massive number of cases of leprosy break out in Montana and there is a vaccine. Who do you think would be first in line to get that vaccine? Those same assholes who passed this law and others like it under the false flag of “personal liberty,” which is a joke coming from the party that waved the flag of personal responsibility as a protection against government meddling in our public and private lives. Now they are employing government meddling to avoid having to recommend personal responsibility. That they consider COVID-19 and its variants to be basically a case of the flu, and a health basket case like Donald Trump pulled through it quickly telling them it ain’t so much, allows them to play fast and loose with the issue, milking it for political gain. But a nasty disease, such as leprosy, or one that makes your dick fall off, would have those very same Republicans trampling over other people to get their shots.

July 28, 2021

You Choose Who You Want to Be

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:26 am

This phrase is one of the inspiring quotes/tattoos/memes that are bandied about as being a bit of wisdom.

Let’s unpack it, shall we?

When you are born you are provided with a genetic makeup including characteristics such as your potential height, possible intelligence, eye and hair color, etc.  none of which you “chose.” They you are governed by programmed behaviors that all humans tend to have for a while, then you are raised by parents who are brilliant or inept or somewhere in between at their job. They may love you for who you are or not. None of this you chose.

So far, there is not much choice involved in becoming who you are or are to be.

At a certain age we all acquire some control over how our lives go and how adept were you at this point at proactively shaping who you wanted to be? Imagine teenagers who desire is to be rich, or become an influencer, or a rapper, or an NBA basketball star. How often do those plans play out?

Possibly this statement needs a bit of amendment. Possibly they mean “You May Get to Choose Who You Want to Be.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. If you have the will and acquire the personal development skills and get appropriate help along the way, you may be able to shape you own destiny. An example of doing this is the football great Hershel Walker. As a child he was chubby and weak and poorly coordinated. He got tired of being bullied and started improving his body by doing hundreds of sit-ups and pushups daily (yes, he worked up to those levels). He increased his running speed by racing trains that plowed through his town. He became a star athlete in high school, then college , and then the NFL, and has stuck to his regimen and still has a sculpted body though he is over 50 years old. But he didn’t choose this parents, physical stature, etc. he just shaped what he had into something that served him better.

Of course, had he been born into slavery or into a very poor country which didn’t have schools or college sports or professional athletics, then he might not have been so successful. Unbeknownst to Republicans, some luck is involved.

So, this catch phrase might be better put as “If You Are Lucky, You May Get to Choose Somewhat of Who You Want to Be.”

There, that’s better.

July 27, 2021

The Conundrum of A Chosen People

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:22 am

When I was young I wondered, just a little, about the idea of a chosen people. In the Jewish-Christian narrative Adam and Eve were “the first people” but then there were those folks off where Seth and Cain found wives, so it is a bit confusing, but these are not the “chosen people” per se as they are all wiped out in the Great Flood, which is roughly 1600+ years after Adam and Eve’s birthing. Yahweh makes a covenant with Noah that he will not again wipe out all of humanity, but that doesn’t make Noah and his offspring Yahweh’s chosen people, I think that doesn’t happen until Abraham comes along about 420 years later. The Abrahamic covenant is the one that makes Abraham and his descendents Yahweh’s chosen people. But then, I could be wrong.

Still, the idea of a chosen people seems wrong. Two thousand years of the 6000 year history of people (according to the Biblical narrative) pass before Yahweh decides to implement the policies regarding the Hebrews being his chosen people? Why? Why then and why the Hebrews?

If I were going to pick a people to concentrate my effect upon from 4000 years ago it wouldn’t be an obscure people in an obscure corner of the world. What was Yahweh’s point? Did he not want to rule over the entire world? Did he not want to be recognized as the one and only god? Why the Hebrews? Better would have been the Egyptians or the Chinese. More developed, more of them, better in every way to spread the word of the powerful and mighty god, Yahweh.

Is great puzzlement!

But fundamentally, why a chosen people? How does it make you feel that you are not one of the chosen? How does it make you feel when you find out that the chosen people has two sets of rules: one for insiders, one for the rest of us. The chosen people are forbidden to kill insiders, but Yahweh orders the Hebrews to kill all of the outsiders where he wants to plant his chosen people. They not only can kill them without penalty, but Yahweh rewards them for doing so! Yahweh created almost an entire world of second-class people, by adopting the Hebrews as his chosen people.

The really perplexing thing is: why just the one? Why not dozens of chosen peoples? Surely and all-knowing, all-powerful being with tens of thousands of supernatural messengers could handle a dozen chosen people. But then why not all of us, why exclude anyone from his favor?

A “Jesus character,” for example, could show up and work his wiles in many, many places. If Jesus is actually god, as Trinitarians claim, Jesus could perform that role all over the world himself.

This is so perplexing, it almost seems as if the chosen people came up with the idea that they had been chosen to bolster their own egos (yes, Church Lady, they are “Special”). But if those people made that up, well religions all over the world would show signs of being made up by the people who felt special to have the attention of a god. And if that were true, surely human one-upmanship would result in some groups having more than one god, eventually leading to other groups having many gods. (I have more gods than you, neener, neener.) Wouldn’t it? Gosh, it does seem kind of like that, doesn’t it?

July 23, 2021

Are Religious Exceptions to Vaccination Requirements Valid?

According to the LA Times:

“Many universities, including the University of California, are requiring vaccination for all students, staff and faculty returning to campus. Many employers, public and private, are doing so as well. These policies are essential to protect public health. The virulent Delta variant of the Coronavirus has made it imperative to ensure vaccination of as many people as possible.

“Unfortunately, though, many of these policies have an exception for those who have a religious objection to vaccination. These are neither required by the law nor are they desirable as a matter of policy because they make it possible for anyone to circumvent the vaccine mandate.

“The UC’s mandatory vaccination policy, for example, has an exception for those who object on religious grounds. It states that this is because the law requires such an exemption, declaring: “The University is required by law to offer reasonable accommodations to . . . employees who object to vaccination based on their sincerely-held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

“This is simply wrong as a matter of law. No law requires such a religious exemption. In terms of free exercise of religion under the 1st Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled more than 30 years ago in Employment Division vs. Smith that the Constitution does not require exceptions to general laws for religious beliefs. In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court said that as long as a law is neutral, not motivated by a desire to interfere with religion and of general applicability to all individuals, it cannot be challenged based on free exercise of religion. In June, in Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia, the court reaffirmed this legal test.

“Laws that require vaccination are the epitome of a neutral law of general applicability: a requirement that applies to everyone and that was not motivated by a desire to interfere with religion. Even if this were not so, the government can infringe on religious freedom if its action is necessary to achieve a compelling interest.”

Okay, now let us consider the “religious” basis for such objections. Most of the objectors in this country are Christians, so I will comment from that viewpoint.

Do you see anywhere in the New Testament, or even the Old for that matter, where it says “Thou shalt not vaccinate”? or “Thou shalt not take medicine of any kind?” or “Thou shalt not befoul your body, the temple of your soul?” Anything? No? Hmm, interesting.

Religion is the third rail of American politics, not Social Security or any other policy. (For those not getting the reference to a “third rail” it comes from electric trains in which the wheels of the cars travel on the normal two rails but a third rail is added to supply the electric power needed to make the train go. Touching either of the two and the third rail results in a massive amount of electricity coursing through your body and usually death. S)

Religion is such a hot button issue, if someone claims a religious basis for and exception to law or rules, we accept that without comment. We do not require people to fill out a form explaining the source of the objection with appropriate references and citations. Nope, we just accept what is claimed as being valid. (What can you expect from a government that accepted Scientology as a legitimate religion?)

Basically what we have here is people who are saying “Neener, neener, neener, you can’t make me! Uh, ‘cause, ‘cause . . . the Bible says so!”

No, it does not and we have to stop pretending that thousand year old documents, especially those which claim that diseases come from demon possession are fit guides to modern life.

There is a long history of “religious exemption” claims from fundamentalist theists. They opposed smallpox vaccination because it was against God’s will. They have opposed many other medical treatments as being “against God’s will” without showing how the heck they know what God’s will is. And endangering many of the rest of us. I think they are opposing modernity as a whole because they are losing an understanding of how they fit into our culture. Instead if white neighbors being the norm, now they neighbors “of color,” and . . . gasp . . . people of different cultures. It just offends their sense of the way things s’posed to be.

July 22, 2021

I-mag-i-na-ay-shun . . .

Filed under: Education,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
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Here is an excerpt from an interview of Brian Greene, a science populizer (specifically physics), on the PBS program NOVA:

NOVA: Well, for example, most people have trouble envisioning a fourth spatial dimension. Can you?

GREENE: No. I cannot envision anything beyond three dimensions. What I can do is I can make use of mathematics that describe those extra dimensions, and then I can try to translate what the mathematics tells me into lower dimensional analogies that help me gain a picture of what the math has told me. But the picture is certainly inadequate to the task of fully describing what’s going on, because it’s in lower dimensions, and in higher dimensions, things are definitely different.

To tell you the truth, I’ve never met anybody who can envision more than three dimensions. There are some who claim they can, and maybe they can; it’s hard to say. But it’s very hard, when your brain is involved in a world that appears to have three dimensions and is well suited to envisioning that world, to go beyond that and imagine more dimensions.

The discussion was about understanding Einstein’s view of physical reality, so I found this strange. Einstein was the inventor of “space-time” that is four dimensional “space” in which three of the dimensions are spatial and the fourth is time. Basically Einstein claimed that these four dimensions are interdependent.

Note that no fourth spatial dimension is mentioned.

It is easy to think in four dimensions. Imagine a small ball hanging in space. Its position is determined by three “dimensions” being up-down, left-right, to and fro and one can be time, it being 10:47 AM CST as I type this. We can add another dimension to make five: temperature. We can specify that this ball is 22.2 Celsius. We can add another dimension by adding color: the ball is blue. We are now up to six dimensions and you are having no trouble keeping up, right?

Trying to imagine four dimensional space would be quite a trick. If you have read the book Flatland, you have imagined one dimensional space (weird) and two dimensional space (intriguing but limited), and we all are quite versed in three dimensional space, but what about four dimensional space?

Uh, uh . . . has anyone ever succeeded at this? I would love to hear about them is they have.

July 21, 2021

I Knew We Would Get to This Point

“And remember, if you don’t overthrow your elites, they will kill you or make your life unbearable. It’s you or them, and so far, it’s you.”

Ian Welsh has taken off the kid gloves. You might want to read his latest post, but be warned it is depressing. I include a couple more excerpts.

The Decision to Let Covid Go Chronic

“Life is wonderful. Modern neoliberal capitalism is the most amazing economic system ever created — one so finely engineered by two generations of intellectuals, bureaucrats, and politicians that it turns even a plague into a massive profit event for the rich.

“And, really, as anyone who isn’t rich is obviously a worthless loser who doesn’t add value to society, because money obviously accurately measures value, this is as it should be.”

July 20, 2021

Right Wing Nonsense Has Religious Roots

In a recent column S.E. Cupp reported that “(Newsmax) Anchor Rob Schmitt, previously a host at Fox News, suggested that COVID-19 vaccines are “generally kind of going against nature.” He added, “Like, I mean, if there is some disease out there — maybe there’s just an ebb and flow to life where something’s supposed to wipe out a certain amount of people, and that’s just kind of the way evolution goes. Vaccines kind of stand in the way of that.”

Ms. Cupp’s point is that conservatives used to be against population control in any form, but apparently another conservative principle got Trump busted.

Actually, there is a long, long history of the religious opposing and protesting interventive medicine. The argument was it was God’s will that someone got sick and if they were to die from the disease and medical treatment prevented that then we were thwarting God’s will. (Hubris 101: How the heck can humans thwart the will of an all-powerful being? If such a being wanted someone dead, they would die, right?)

So, now a conservative icon (really?) is asking, shouldn’t we let COVID-19 run its course? Isn’t that the way evolution is supposed to work? (He didn’t add the evolution bit; I did.) Ah, so treating the disease is not a good idea, uh, so this means that when President Trump got the disease, they shouldn’t have spent millions of dollars treating him, to save his life? Trump was wrong and all of the medicos, too? Or is this just another sign of how shabbily the President was treated by liberal scientists?

It is hard to tell when these people are serious or just blathering nonsense because it drives ratings. One of the worst things we have done is made news media pay their own way.

July 18, 2021

What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:17 am
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The leaking of the Kremlin Papers shows that Russia actively tried to nudge Mr. Trump over the finish line in his first presidential contest. (Whether they did or did not has yet to be proven.) My initial suspicions were that Trump was ignorant of these attempts to secure him the presidency, because Mr. Trump has shown himself to be ignorant of almost everything.

But Mr. Trump’s obsequiousness toward Vladimir Putin is hard to explain otherwise. In business Mr. Trump’s persona is that he is the biggest bully on the block or the whole city if you wanted to know. So, to be in character, Mr. Trump should have been chesty with Mr. Putin. Yet his persona was that of an underling toward a mafia don.

So, the big question is: what did he know about these Russian efforts and when did he know it. If he knew of them before his election and did nothing, he has committed treason. If he knew about them after his election and said nothing, which his ego would propel him to do, then he is guilty of several felonies. His ego, of course, would require that he won that election because he was Donald Fucking Trump, a proven winner, don’t you know.

His obsequious behavior toward Putin was a stupid move either way, because it created doubts in people’s minds as being otherwise inexplicable. Remember when we were trying to figure out what hold Putin had over Trump? Mr. Trump would have been better off posturing (chest beating, etc.; he knows the drill) in public and going “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean” in private with Mr. Putin. Putin would have understood, as he was getting exactly what he wanted in either case.

So, what did Mr. Trump know about these Russian efforts and when did he know it?

July 16, 2021

Outstanding in Their Field . . . Not!

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:04 am
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U.S. farm workers lives are in jeopardy from the intense heat in the West. The Guardian ran a piece with the title “We’re not animals, we’re human beings” and subtitles of “US farm workers labor in deadly heat with few protections” and “Advocates want OSHA to issue federal heat standards, requiring water, shade and rest breaks.”

About twenty years ago my partner and I got a recreational archery gig at an Air Force base in Japan. It was summer and it was quite hot. There were also restrictions on how many minutes one could work outside before retreating to an air conditioned rest area (not just shaded), based upon heat and humidity. If I remember right, at the most extreme conditions we encountered, it was a little as 15 minutes outside at a time with a long respite to follow.

Since we were running a recreation program for the dependent kids on the base, we were informed of these restrictions with no “ifs, ands, or buts.”

So, the concept of restricting exposure to extreme heat and humidity conditions isn’t exactly one foreign to the U.S. government. I guess the Congress people responsible for dealing with such things are way too busy to consider the plight of the people who put food on their tables or really any other need of ordinary Americans.

July 13, 2021

Paul Krugman Accidently Stumbles Upon Truth

In a blog post addressing, in part, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, Professor Krugman pointed out our long history of being suspicious that something was going on behind the scenes.

“. . . there has always been a streak in our political psychology that sees elite institutions, from government to education, as secret fronts for a vast global conspiracy.”

Yes, and your point is?

That we are conspiracy-minded or that the elites are always working in the background to shape the world to their benefit and to screw the rest of us?

Take, for example, Professor Krugman’s field, economics. A 2014 survey showed that the political interests of the people had zero chance of being addressed by Congress. Even if we got in line behind the wealthy, the line would be so long that the term would expire before we reached the front. So, the current U.S. economy is set up so that people of wealth can get very much wealthier (e.g. Trump Tax Cuts) but ordinary people struggle in poorly paying jobs with few fringe benefits.

And, oh, climate change? This is a serious concern of a majority of Americans. So, look at this graph and indicate where it shows how our political actions bent the curve in our favor.

What, you see no bending of the curve in our favor (downward)? Hmm, I wonder why that is? All of our governmental efforts to curb climate change have failed? What, you say there have actually been no governmental efforst to curb climate change? Hmm, could it be that the wealthy have been protecting their interests in becoming even more filthy rich and the rest of us can go fuck ourselves?

Yes, I think people think there is something going on behind the scenes. The people are spot on. I just wish they wouldn’t make up bullshit things like Jewish Space Lasers because what is really happening is so fucking obvious.

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